Saturday, May 9, 2009

Me, My Mother, and I

Therapy this past Wednesday was intense work. Quite a lot of time was spent in a postmortem of the disastrous date with Cal. (As you may recall my last therapy session was to get ready for my date with Cal). See Cal, we're still trying to figure out what went wrong, and how to make it right.

It seems there are times I channel my mother and not in her finest moments. But she was fierce and honest about her feelings. She was opinionated and forceful, always direct to a fault. And she was mischievous in a mean and teasing way I always hated. The flip side of not liking that is the wit in her barbs. She was quick and sometimes glib. And though I saw her as my tormenter when I was young, she was also my mother whom I adored.

Everything that I have said about her that you would think of as clearly cruel and careless has a flip side. She said she wanted to make me tough. She has succeeded. I'm not only tough, I'm strong and, so I'm told, intimidating, scary. I have her voice, her vocabulary, her taste in clothes, esthetic, intelligence and hunger for knowledge.

She was the very picture of Ms. Robinson--older woman seduces younger man. She had an almost inextinguishable sex appeal even into her 70s. And she was a political operative and leading edge feminist organizer in the 1960's in Salt Lake City, an inhospitable environment for the women's movement. She organized and led pickets of the Mormon temple on the weekend of General Conference which is when the temple grounds are packed with the faithful who have come from across the country and from other countries. It's like a biannual trip to Mecca. I have never been so scared protesting for anything anywhere in my travels, as I was marching with my mother to protest the Mormon Church's apposition to ratification by the State of Utah of the Equal Right's Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. We were threatened with death by young mormon men and we were spat upon. Never have I felt so vulnerable to violence. We had a permit, we were outside the Church's property on a public sidewalk, but I felt scared. That was when I first realized my mother's power and strength as a woman with a cause.

My mother organized the Utah Chapter of National Organization of Women, the Utah National Women's Conference. Gloria Steinem slept in the bed I inherited. So did Betty Freidan, and Andrea Dworkin. Every famous feminist who came to speak at the University of Utah was picked up at the airport by my mother, driven to this house, partied at this place. My mother was a woman with a rich and interesting life. She sat on the Board of Directors of the Utah Chapter of the ACLU and board meetings were held in this living room. Our last Mayor was Rocky Anderson and I knew him during his days as an ACLU attorney.

When Maggy lived in Santa Barbara she served two terms as a member of the Santa Barbara Grand Jury. Right up until the end of her life she was still flipping people off and saying "Fuck You." Fierce spirit. A savage woman, unwilling to live a life without breaking all the rules.

And what does all of this have to do with therapy? I will now acknowledge the gifts my mother gave me. They are undeniable and not all bad. But I would rather be gentler than my mother, more sensitive to other peoples feelings, especially if they are kind, well meaning, generous people. I have seen my mother hurt someone else very deliberately. And I have asked her, "Why did you do that?" And she has answered, "Because I could." I do not want to become that woman. So I must take care.

So here's to you mother. It's late in coming, but I do forgive you. I did admire and adore you even as I feared you.

38 comments:

Ghost Dansing said...

american woman.......

Utah Savage said...

Hi Ghost Honey. I watched the whole thing. Which surprised me. I missed Lenny Kravits in my musical journey through life. But you'd have to have been unconscious not to have heard this.

Liberality said...

I have complicated feelings toward my mother too. But I decided long ago to forgive her for not being there for me when I needed her. Anyway, your mother does sound fierce and I am in awe that you have met so many famous feminists. Your mom does have a good side.

Liberality said...

isn't that song really anti-woman Ghost? Am I missing some sarcasm here?

Ghost Dansing said...

Libs.... the song basically refers to the time of  the Vietnam war when Americans departed the United States to avoid the war and draft.

when the singer refers to the American Woman, it is America (also thought to refer more specifically to the Statue of Liberty symbolically).

my take on it is that there is also an aspect of the american liberated woman, including liberated sexuality, that scares not only american males, but entire misogynistic cultures abroad.....

Utah's mother, and Utah herself sometimes scared (scare) people because they were/are strong, free thinking, assertive, politically active/opinionated.... liberated...... in some ways both of them are archtypes of an era......

much of what women in America have today as citizens had to be fought for over generations.....

that female Statue of Liberty continues to scare many domestically, and many of our enemies abroad fear her more than they do our guns and bombs.....

i don't know what to do with myself....i really don't......

Ghost Dansing said...

i don't know what to do with myself..... i really don't......

Liberality said...

Here are the lyrics to the song that I know. I've never heard of the "American woman" in this song being about the statue of Liberty--that's a new one on me.

The lyrics:
Huh!
American woman
Stay away from me
American woman
Mama let me be
Dont come hare hanging around my door
I dont want to see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin old with you
Now woman
Stay away
American woman
Listen what I say

American woman
Get away from me
American woman
Mama let me be
Dont come here knocking around my door
I dont want to see your shadow no more
Colored lights
can hypnotize
Sparkle someone elses eyes
Now woman
Get away
American woman
Listen what I say

Huh!
American woman
I said get way
American woman
Listen what I say
Dont come hanging around my door
Dont want to see your face no more
I dont need your war machines
I dont need your ghetto scenes
Colored lights
can hypnotize
Sparkle someone elses eyes
Now woman
Get away
American woman
Listen what I say

American woman
Get away from me
American woman
Mama let me be
I gotta go
I gotta get away
And I gotta go
I wanna fly away

Im gonna leave you, woman
Im gonna leave you, woman
Im gonna leave you, woman
Im gonna leave you, woman

Bye bye, bye bye
Bye bye, bye bye

American woman
Youre no good for me
And Im no good for you
American woman
Im looking at you right in the eye
And tell you what Im gonna do
American woman

Im gonna leave you woman
You know I gotta go

Im gonna leave you woman
I gotta go
Iiiiii gotta go
I gotta go american woman yeah

The person obviously didn't believe in punctuation. Anyway, I am home on dial up and I can't watch the video now but I'm pretty sure that's the song you are referring to.

sunshine said...

Awww Sweetie! That was a lovely tribute to your Mum. :)
There does come a time in our lives that we do have to forgive the people that have hurt us and move on. I know it's hard and that it doesn't happen overnight.
I'm sometimes shocked when I realize how much of my own Mother is within me. My kids will point out something "about me" and I will be taken aback. Not having realized that I'd done it or that it had come across the way that it had.
I always try to remember that someone shaped my Mother. Just as she shaped me. Good and bad. And like you, I am trying to discard of the negative and keep the good.
(((Hugs)))
Laura

Utah Savage said...

Thanks Lib, I think when I saw American Woman I knew what Ghost was saying.

Ghost that was a lovely explanation of our ferocity as possibly a good thing. Having pulled Utah Savage out of thin air when asked what I wanted to call my blog, I now recognize the many sides of that choice. It is a family name, but it is also a description of a certain kind of woman and the word used to describe my mother's ancestors.

Utah Savage said...

Sunshine, thanks for the comment. I think our relationships with our mothers are all so fraught with conflict and the push pull of the connection like mirrors for each other in good times and bad.

sunshine said...

My husband is on vacation in Cuba. He was driving me nuts so I told him to get lost for a week. (not really but he did need a vacation. I'm not easy to live with).
I hate traveling so I declined the trip. He took our second oldest (the only one that wanted to go) and left. They will be back on Tuesday. So yay!! I won't have to do the garbage this week. LOL

The kids and I have been visiting the shelter here a lot the past year or so. We adopted our guinea pig "Fat Tilda" from there. Unfortunatly the only dogs that they have had in have come with a lot of baggage. In most cases not suitable for homes with kids for various reasons. We did adopt our last 2 dogs from "the pound". Very nice dogs. You're right though. One will come along with our name on it. I was just so excited about the pug as I've wanted one since I was a little girl.
But what's that one lady always tell you? Chin up! Tits out! LOL .. By tomorrow they'll be up and out.
Thanks for stopping by! I was so excited!!!
(((Hugs)))
Laura

Beach Bum said...

Mother's Day for me is less an appreciation of the memory of my mom who passed away in 2007 than wondering about the wreckage she left behind and how it still affects my siblings and me. Forgiveness is a specter that sits just beyond my reach. Even if I could get to it I don't know if it would be real.

Utah Savage said...

Beach I felt that way until I really saw how much of her is in me. I couldn't stand to be me if I couldn't forgive her. But she's long dead. I should be free by now, yet I act like her. I need to see the good in there somewhere. My mother was proud of the fact that she never loved anyone. I don't want to end up feeling that. But I do understand how hard forgiveness is. I tried it again and again. It was just out of reach. Too much pain, too much damage. But now, at this point in my life I'd rather be warmer than she, less angry. I think it's different for daughters. I know it's hard for sons, sons have their own problems with fathers, missing in action or there and unavailable. But daughters are their mother's memories of themselves. It can be so easily twisted.

susan said...

That was not only a wonderful story but an amazing photograph of the two of you. A little forgiveness of someone that close to you (who definitely did you some harm) goes a long way to you forgiving yourself. At the risk of sounding naive I've found it true that practicing compassion opens us to the heart of the creation.

Utah Savage said...

Compassion for myself is most difficult. I have also internalized many of her expectations and criticisms. Must give up negative self-talk. Calling myself lazy doesn't get any work done. It just makes me resent myself as much as if I had a nagging mate.

anita said...

the original version of 'american woman' was written and performed by a canadian group, The Guess Who. i would imagine there is a part of the song that is commenting on the intensity of the 'liberation' movement that was emanating out of the united states at the time and yes, how scary it was for not only american men, but men world wide.

interestingly as well, tricia nixon invited The Guess Who to perform at the White House, much to the chagrin of her father.

Utah Savage said...

Anita, I'm so glad to see you.

D.K. Raed said...

Excellent "tribute" to your mom for some of positive impact she had your life. Lovely photo ... you were a stunningly beautiful child just like you always said! Your great bone structure was evident and has obviously stood you well.

ps, I always understood American Woman to be as Ghost implied ... an anti-vietnam statement by canadians who felt threatened that our "values" would take root in their peaceful country. Had a foreign boyfriend back then who used to sing it with a snarl at me, but I didn't take it personally ...

Utah Savage said...

Hi DK, good to see you. Hope you're having a lovely day.

Lisa said...

Maggy was a fascinating and complex woman, just like you are. It's sad that she couldn't see that by trying to make you tough, she didn't give enough balance to tenderness. It's an easy mistake to make, I suppose.

Bubs said...

Wow...that was amazing. Hat's off to your honest, clear-eyed and loving consideration of your mom and her impact on you.

Utah Savage said...

In the sixties, feminists were reexamining the characteristics deemed "feminine." My mother had long since discarded the "sweet" parts of all those definitions of femininity. She was seductive, sexy, funny, but never tender, at least not with her child. Tenderness was for sissies. Great broads were not tender they were tough. You can see that already happining in the films made in the fifties, all those great films with actresses like Betty Davis, Joan "mommy dearest" Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Carol Lombard...these were strong smart wise-cracking dames in those films from the forties and fifties after the war when women had joined the workforce doing "men's work" and doing it well. It was not easy going back to playing a tender supportive role. Maggy was never good at playing tender supportive roles.

Bubs, thanks. It was harder than it looks.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Here's what I've been learning - slowly, as the scars from my own complicated relationship with my mother heal - we create our own reality. I can't control my past with my mother. I am learning which of her gifts to accept and which ones I need to discard. What's humbling is to realize that she must have gone through the same process with her mother, and her mother before her.

To say that our relationships with our mothers are complex and complicated is to make a serious understatement.

Thanks for this essay, Ms. Utah Savage. This is the first Mother's Day since my mother's death in August. You have no idea how much this essay, and these comments, helped.

themom said...

You carry years of your Mother with you. But you manage to analyze all this very well. I wish you a Happy Mother's Day for all the adoptive daughters you have. I'm sure they love you as well. I know we love you also!

Mauigirl said...

Your mother sounds as if she was a strong and fascinating woman. I think we all have some mixed emotions about our mothers - in some ways we want to be like them, so we try to take the good, but not the bad. Being aware of what you want to take and what you don't want, is the most important thing.

Mauigirl said...

Liberality, re: American Woman, I also have heard the interpretation that the song is about America itself, not a real woman. The band that did the song, Guess Who, were Canadians. The bit about "I dont need your war machines
I dont need your ghetto scenes" kind of gives it away I think. But like you, I didn't know that at the time it was popular and didn't learn the symbolic meaning until much later when I read something about it.

The Crow said...

Peggy, this has made me weep, for you and your mother, and for me and mine. Thank you for being the conduit I needed today.

Martha

Utah Savage said...

Mauigirl, thank you for the visit and a bit more clarification for Ghost and his intention which I never think of as anything but filled with unexpected insight and love.

Matha, Do you feel my arms around you?

yellowdog granny said...

why do i have the feeling your mother and i would have gotten along and gotten into trouble also..

Utah Savage said...

YDG you and my mother could have been sisters. You would have been the much younger sister, of course. But you would have had to arm wrestle for who's the prettiest and smartest prize.

Liberality said...

Hello. I read everyone's comments about the song. I thought about it at work and realized I have never heard the entire song or read all the lyrics. I thought of the song as directed at American women, which meant me, and just automatically turned it off. Why should I listen to some asshole rant at me? This opinion of the song was perhaps reinforced by a Viet Nam vet I knew who told me the song was about how we were bitches and not like those nice accommodating Asian women who kissed their ass when they were over there. See? So I am really surprised, really!, by this whole other side to the song that I didn't know even existed--so the band is from Canada and the American woman=entire fucking war crazy country--got it.

Utah Savage said...

Lib I love you as you are--hot and fast or slow and deliberative and all the moments in between.

Sherry said...

it's amazing isn't it?

Utah Savage said...

Sherry, did you fear your mother too?

betmo said...

life is much simpler when we are young :) no adult human complexities to muck things up- we can love or hate or both. :) i never wanted to be like either parent- i felt my mom weak and ignorant and my dad is a mean drunk. pretty straightforward when you are a 17 year old know-it-all. in fact, it wasn't until probably the last 5 years that i got to know my mom as a person- not just my mom. and she's pretty smart- and strong. and i see her in myself in flashes- sometimes i smile like her or use one of her mannerisms. and i see my dad in me too- his common sense and tenacity- and his desire to always stand up for the underdog.

and i am ok with that. it took over 35 years but i think i am finally ok with that. :)

gaffergirls.com said...

the great thing about being an adult is we get to create our own reality...

all my love
mona

Utah Savage said...

Welcome Gaffer Girls! I have a gaffer girl in my life. Gaffer guys too. But I loved all the women working on sound stages, movie and commercial sets. I have a friend who is still in the biz.

BurrDeming said...

She sounds extraordinary. Sometimes "I love you" is less meaningful than "I forgive you."

Thank you for sharing the intensity of the memory.